The Importance of Realism

I tend to buy adventure modules and source books just because I want to see how the author(s) tackle problems.  Some of them, such as “The Cerulean Seas” campaign setting by Alluria tackle some really complex problems – in this case, such as buoyancy and depth – and the resulting document can be informative while providing keen examples of solving problems in a solid fantasy gaming fashion.

But a bit too often authors needlessly introduce unnecessary challenges to reality.  I will give you two examples.

I recently purchased a module because I needed something to cover me for just 3 game hours because I hadn’t created anything for my weekly game.  So I bought a module that happened to be the correct level and it was structured loosely enough so that I could adjust it to integrate fairly well into my campaign.  I should have been ready in like a quarter the time – I ‘d just have to read it.

And then I noticed that a portion the pirate-themed adventure featured a 170 foot pirate ship.  I don’t know if you know much about wooden ships, but I assure you that this is a honking huge wooden ship.  Not impossibly huge, but it would be an impressive wooden ship in any era.  My bullshit detectors were starting to spin-up.

Next I discovered that this behemoth of a ship was ‘crewed’ by 5 pirates that would sail the ship to intercept and engage any ship piloted by the party.  I am not saying that it would be bs_meterimpossible to sail a ship with just 5 people, but it would be very challenging just to sail the ship, much less engage another fully crewed vessel while attempting to control a 170′ mammoth.  The BS detector was now sounding loud and clear – DUH – DUH – DUH!

No one wants to have a realism discussion instead of gaming

Once your inner BS detector is sounding off, it is a problem – your disbelief is no longer suspended and you start to scrutinize everything else.  Just handing something that set off your BS detector to your players without sanitizing it can result in them having a similar “that’s a load” moment and a couple of those can create problems.  No one wants to have a realism discussion instead of gaming.

And mistakes of this nature aren’t limited to 3rd party publishers.  While reading a fairly recent (i.e. 5e) WoTC adventure document, I encountered a brief description of a young mother and her sextuplets.   Yeah, it was tossed in the middle of an adventure just that casually, hastily used to illustrate the generosity of this woman who was also caring for adoptive children.  Six suckling infants and still such a charitable soul that she is adopting non-human children! So noble!  So…unlikely.

There have been less than 200 cases of sextuplets since the 1800s

It took me like 5 minutes on Google to learn that there have been less than 200 cases of sextuplets since the 1800s.  And the success rate for the infants is low until recent times and it is still quite common to lose all of the infants.

As a player, I would have investigated the woman to see if she were following a goddess of fertility or if she’d actually been bedded by a god.  And if the DM seemed surprised that I was asking such oddly prying questions, my vote of confidence in the entire scenario would almost certainly be suspended and that dreaded reality talk about how things really work would have started.

Yes, I realize that we’re playing a game and that it should not be very realistic – it is, after all, rather abstract.  But neither should it flaunt ignorance or outrageous stupidity – unless that is the actual intent, to make players question or to dig deeper into something that is clearly, and obviously…wrong.

Neither should it flaunt ignorance or outrageous stupidity

Adding needless color text that creates disbelief, conceiving scenarios requiring some scant knowledge without doing any amount of reasonable research, or simply introducing something on the edge of believably that does nothing to advance the adventure are foolish, easily avoidable mistakes that reflect poorly upon the editors – the quality control people – first and foremost since they accepted the ‘work’ without pushing back or doing due diligence.


Author: Kilgore

Long-time gamer, alpha techno-geek, and former infantryman

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Realism”

  1. Excellent article. This is the kind of thing I really dislike as it kills my suspension of disbelief as well. I can put up with a lot but you can’t just rub my nose in it. Now if they had explained the ship was self crewing or had invisible sprites or anything but no.

  2. I’m not sure I agree. Take what’s given to you, or adjust.

    On some of these things, why not simply increase (or reduce) the numbers appropriately?

    For instance the ship might be manned by a crew of 20 – 30, but everyone who’s not statted up are killable with one hit (or better yet, don’t enter combat and simply cower / be unable to act [something like unseen servants, but with physical bodies]). Or simply make the ship magic and those 5 are able to use it only (synergy boosts and whatnot). Or if you don’t feel like doing either of those, half, third, or quarter the ship’s size.

    Or the lady with 6 children, reduce to 1 or 2 and call it a day?

    1. I did repair what I could. In this case, I simply left the ship docked and used it as draw for what amounted to a trap. Optimally, I should not need to heavily tweak purchased ‘professional’ materials that are setting neutral.

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